The companies that make skis, snowboards, clothing and accessories, and the retailers they depend on are riding high as they get ready to converge at the biggest trade show of the year in Denver.
Snow sports retailers sold $2.1 billion in equipment, apparel and accessories from Aug. 1 to Dec. 31, according to Kelly Davis, director of research for SnowSports Industries of America (SIA), the trade association for manufacturers. That is about a 9 percent increase from sales of $1.96 billion the year before, Davis said.
That is expected to lift spirits and open checkbooks at the SIA Snow Show Thursday through Sunday in Denver and the demo days, where next year’s equipment is tested, at Copper Mountain Feb. 3 and 4.
Davis said a condition referred to as the “backyard effect” is affecting consumers in many parts of the country this year. People see snow in their backyards so they get fired up to visit ski resorts. The East Coast has seen decent snow this winter and the Midwest’s snowy weather has helped spur sales, Davis said. The Rocky Mountain area had a ton of early snow and resorts remain busy despite drier weather in January. The sales have surged even though West Coast and Northwest resorts are facing a severe drought, Davis said.
It’s not just a case of people buying warm clothing to deal with the frigid temperatures that have gripped the eastern half of the country for so long. “We’re seeing equipment sales up,” Davis said.
Sales of units of all types are up 7 percent for the season-to-date through Dec. 31 compared to the prior year, according to SIA. Alpine skis, boots and bindings are up 8 percent in dollars, the trade association said, while snowboards and equipment are up 2 percent.
Ski shops and other retailers are selling a lot of their inventory and even clearing out merchandise leftover from the prior winter, when sales weren’t as robust, Davis said. That affects the planning of buyers when they attend the Snow Show.
“They don’t have to play the conservative game,” Davis said.
About 19,000 attendees are expected at the show at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver, according to SIA. About 1,000 brands of merchandise, from skis to ski wear, will be displayed.
The show is valuable for ski-shop operators because they get a look at the innovations in skis for the following season, said Dave Stapleton, manager of Gorsuch Limited in Aspen. “We see what our options are,” he said.
Stapleton will make the trip with one other buyer from Aspen and at least four other colleagues from Gorsuch stores in Colorado. Stapleton said his appointments with representatives of ski manufacturers have been scheduled for three weeks. He will listen to their descriptions about innovations in skis, but the veteran of at least 21 Snow Shows said it’s vital to actually test the skis at Copper Mountain.
“We do a lot of on-snow testing, which is a big part of our decision,” he said. “If it doesn’t ski well, it’s not going on our wall.”
Almost all the purchases of skis for the 2014-15 season will be based on information learned at the show, Stapleton said.
Klaus Obermeyer, founder of the Aspen-based ski-wear company Sport Obermeyer, said the Snow Show remains important for his business, but changes in the manufacturing business have complicated his side of the industry. In the old days, the Snow Show was held in March. Retailers would place their orders, then Obermeyer would reach a deal with a factory.
Now, factories need more advance time, so Obermeyer must place its order before the Snow Show. “We have to order before we sell the stuff,” Obermeyer said. He and his staff make an educated guess on their order for numerous models of pants, jackets, parkas and vests based on how well sales have gone for the current season — which affects retailers’ inventories — and some previews with some of their best customers. Nevertheless, it’s still a guessing game.
“You go to church every day and pray to be right,” Obermeyer quipped.
Obermeyer expects retailers to be “in a buying mood” at this weekend’s show. Cold temperatures throughout most of the country have sparked good sales. Sales are up 20 percent nationwide from the end of August through Dec. 31 for Obermeyer, he said. In some parts of the country sales are up even higher.
Obermeyer will have about 40 employees from its sales and support staff at the show. The company’s booth is at its usual place at the entrance to the convention center. “I don’t have to walk as far,” laughed Obermeyer, who turned 94 in December. He will be at the booth to greet his customers with his trademark smile and handshake.
“You go to church every day and pray to be right.”
Founder, Sport Obermeyer